Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's Not Enough to Shoot Fish in a Barrel...

By all measures I give Comedy Central shows far more consideration than they deserve. Outside of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, there are far more misses than there are hits. Even, to me, South Park is spotty, though I do enjoy Reno 911 and The Sarah Silverman Show.

Actually, that's not bad for one network.


No doubt conservatives are whining about Li'l George. I can tell them right now they can relax. If anything it proves that it's not enough to just make fun of GW Bush, it has to be funny, and man does this show not deliver.

In some confusing hybrid world, George Senior is in charge, but we're still in our current war. Li'l George runs around with equally bad caricatures of Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld.

They are characterized with such 'insightful' strokes as Cheney mumbling/growling out indistinguishable sounds marked with key Cheney quotes while the people who he's talking to interpret as brutal suggestions. Just a note, self-effacing Jon Stewart occasionally doing Penguin imitations when talking about Cheney is funny, the cut rate Evil Kenny, not so much. Having Cheney's father being Darth Vader is less than one note.

Rumsfeld is of course abused by his father.

Rice is naturally in love with Bush. This wasn't funny when it was Janet Reno and Clinton (and at least Clinton had the ladies man rep) and it's not funny here. As usual for the cartoon style they're using, Rice is the smartest of the group, but this is of course blinded by her love for Bush.

Tonight's episode of course used "Li'l Blair" to imply the British are homosexual in a half assed attempt to parody the Bush administration's homophobia. Ultimately it boils down to little other than "Ha ha, the Bush administration hates gays." We know. You have to try harder (they even missed opportunities to play with hypocrisy and tough situations with Cheney, instead having him follow Barrack Obama when George is off playing with Blair, making Obama interchangeable with Carter...)

Nothing about this show digs deeper than a surface level understanding of the situation. Truth be told the humor wouldn't be affected if the connection to the real life characters wasn't there, which is to say that it still wouldn't be funny. There is no insight to it, it's no more insulting than a fifth grader calling a sixth grader stupid.

What it comes down to is satire is hard, even when what you're satirizing seems like an easy subject. And this phoned in attempt does not succeed. The sad thing is that given divided world we live in a crappy show of this nature actually ends up reflecting bad on me and others who put a little effort in making fun of this administration.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Last Man on the Internet: The Sitdotcom

Sometimes I feel like my grandma on the Internet, the last to know anything and stunned by something like blinking banner ads.

I feel extra stupid for only now becoming aware of the sitdotcom, which as you can see there has it's own tag. (To give you an idea of how grandma I am on the Internet, I'm not even sure what does, except that it seems similar to Stumbleupon.)

Fortunately the term is new enough that Google thinks I misspelled listdotcom, but still. This is something that I should have known about, but I was only vaguely aware. I know about, Channel 101, and the various series bumping around the internet, but I wasn't aware that they had evolved to the level that they had.

Matt Kirsch, who I've also never heard of, has a pretty good primer on what they are and asks some good questions about where they might go. I came to his article after I Stumbled Upon its subject, Clark and Micheal, a dryly funny mockumentary style show in the mold of The Office about two young aspiring screenwriters that stars Michael Cera (George Micheal from Arrested Development) and his friend Clark Duke (from the upcoming Superbad.)

It might be obvious why I dig that show, and that means I fall into a category that Kirsch suggests, being someone who is interested in the media-or in this case specifically someone who works with another writer aspiring to be screenwriters.

But let me explain why it's so brilliantly funny, even though it still won't prove Kircsh wrong in any way.

The characters are all high ambition. The first episode has them showing up at a studio gate trying to sell the script to Ted Turner himself. They do manage a meeting with a head from an ABC Family clone channel (played by another Arrested Development alum).

Thing is, I know these guys. In fact, fear of actually being these guys has been a bit of a shackle around me and Sous Rature's ankles since the beginning. I've talked to former classmates about their ambitions, what they're working on, and it's not shorts, or crew positions. Well, not the ones who are working, anyway. They're working on pitching their own TV shows, and I shit you not, trying to start their own channels. When you look at the resources that they bring to such endeavors, the Rocket to Mars starts to become insignificant to explain the gap between ambition and ability to execute.

But how different are they from me? I no more know how to raise the money for my short than I know what to do with it once it's filmed. If I'm going to have an unachievable dream, why not have a fantastic one? Certainly, shorts get made every day, hell five a week are made on FOX's On the Lot) and even Paramount couldn't successfully mount a whole new channel. Maybe they've been talking about these new internet channels and I was just too much of a Luddite to know. Somehow, I doubt it.

But watching Clark and Michael go through their downs and downs, it's like watching a baby eat and re-eat a lemon and knowing exactly how that goes. Sort of a 'there but for the grace of god' type thing.

But even without that, it's a pretty funny show. So watch it. Eventually, after I've watched a few more of these things, I might have something more interesting to say about them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

General Bitching

The purpose of this blog entry is just to publicly announce that I am a serious stress monkey at the moment, and thus, not especially engaged here. just a short list:

1. I am moving. My roommate is being awesome about it, and knowing the other stuff on this list, is not bitching me out for taking my time even though he is so jazzed about the whole thing that we're already half moved and our last day here is Saturday.

2. I am teaching seven classes, and will be going up to eight next week (four is full time for a teacher). I can handle it, and the money next month is gonna seriously rock.

3. Almost everyone I know is having some crisis or another, including my brother, who may actually be spending time in jail due to a Dukes of Hazzard style feud with a local cop in Southwest Oregon, and my parents can't help out financially because they are strapped due to a number of their own misfortunes.

4. My dad wants his laptop yesterday, and the purchase a computer by committee thing is driving me crazy, especially when people assume that I've dropped the ball when I don't jump on it instantly given all the other shit going on in my life.

5. I have a succession of houseguests (all of whom are absolutely welcome and should not take this venting as any kind of hinting around) that started when the move did and will continue through the end of next month.

6. Walrus and I are supposed to be writing a play, and it's just not happening (despite numerous breakthroughs and Walrus's being extremely understanding about it all despite his own personal crises).

7. I am trying to undertake a major personality/lifestyle/philosophy overhaul, and it really can't wait.

8. Student loan people have come a-knockin' along with various other creditors and obligations that are all manageable, but a huge hassle nonetheless.

9. I should be asleep right now.

Anyhow--sympathize, mock, whatever, but I probably won't notice in my general fugue until it's over--see you all when I see you.

Sous Rature

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tagged as Well

Incertus hit me with this. I don't know 8 bloggers, and the ones I know who haven't already hit by this I don't think even check here anymore...but what the heck.

1. All right, here are th rules.
2. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
3. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
4. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
5. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So, lets see...I'm really nothing but random facts.

1. Sour Rature and I's first play was actually named by Brian at Industrial Disease. It was supposed to be about two guys who have a series of cool adventures only to find out each time that it's just them on the couch talking about doing it. It changed. (I still like that idea though)

2. My legs bend backwards at the knee. Like a lot, I can walk that way.

3. I grew up competing against a future professional athlete whose dad remembered me when I met him last year on a shoot. I'm in a promotional video of theirs.

4. All my furniture was obtained free off Craiglist, including my 50" TV.

5. I started losing my hair around the age of 17-18

6. My mom, since birth, has thought I was going to be an oceanographer for no discernible reason.

7. Around Jr. High (and I'm just now remembering I used to do this) I would write letters to people who did things I thought was interesting asking them how I could do it or if I could get advice. About half of them would get responses. More often than not I got sales brochures. Which, since I was in Jr. High, I thought was cool anyway.

8. The entire time we've known each other, me and Sous Rature have worn the same size pants, and our sizes have changed since we've known each other. I don't know how he's going to feel about that one, but I was stuck.

So, I can't tag the folks at Incertus, so I have to tag Sous Rature as soon as he finishes his move, Brian at Industrial Disease, Micheal(NSFW) if it's appropriate on his blog, though I don't know if it is since it's a place for his black and white photos, and Ipse Dixit should she feel the urge. To make up the difference, any unblogging readers can post 8 in the comments. I know you're out there...or I hope you are. Jeff, I'm looking at you. Oh crap, I just remembered the cats over at The Manwich Machine...that should

Or something.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rise of the Lobots

My brother is the latest victim. More and more fall victim everyday as Bluetooth becomes more standard on peoples mobile phones. They have become Lobots.

It's not that I have anything against hands free devices for the phone. The VWs would be way too hard to drive and hold a phone to my ear at the same time. And there isn't anything really more noble about having a wire hanging from your ear than just the little Bluetooth phone ear piece.

The difference is when it's in the ear and they're not talking to anyone.

Clearly the mobile phone is no longer the symbol of the mover and shaker that it once was, mobile phone ownership now is taken as a given. So what is the average poser to do? Apparently wear their ear piece as a constant accessory as they go about their business regardless of whether or not they are actually on the phone.

Nevermind that it makes them look like Lando Calrissions lakey...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sandwich Idea

Haven't had one in a while, well, one that made it to the blog.

I was watching Saturn's new test drive challenge, and while I admire the balls of that I thought the idea of a centralized test drive system is a great idea.

It would be kind of like rental agencies, where you pay a fee to test drive cars. What you get is the ability to test drive several cars in the same category at one stop without the pressure of having a sales person pushing the car on you. For a small fee you get to do your own comparison test.

There are problems I can see with it that whoever goes for the sandwich would have to solve. It'd be hard to get the cars, companies are likely to want you to be on the dealership when they test those cars so that you're more compelled to buy them. So there is a huge overhead to have a good selection of cars on hand for test drives unless you can convince the manufacturers that having cars there is in their best interest and loan them out like they would for magazine test drives.

Slimest Silver Lining Ever

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Free Online Dating
I saw this over at Incertus.
This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

* fucking (6x)
* shit (5x)
* fuck (3x)
* dangerous (2x)
* hurt (1x)

I think my rant about the bastard piece of shit vandals saved us from the indignity of a 'G' rating.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Best Finish

I know that no one who reads this (all two of you) is a racing fan, but I am. Specifically, endurance sports cars. I don't know what it is about them, but I can't get enough. This weekend was the running of the premiere endurance sports car event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where the Audi R10 TDI repeated last years dominance. Even with smaller tanks, the diesel powered sports car prototypes (Peugeot entered a diesel powered 908) ran away from the petrol powered prototypes.

While this isn't remarkable in and of itself, since the petrol powered Audis have ran away from the other prototypes as well, the R10 has run faster times than the petrol powered R8, striking a pretty good blow for diesel power.

And this is part of what I like about racing, and something that I think it has lagged a bit on or a while but is getting better.

Racing, while always about being faster than the other car, is also about 'improving the breed.' Races like The Indianapolis 500 were a test of engineering that brought us things like the rear view mirror and the seatbelt.

With things like peak oil and global warming, it's time for racing to prove its relevance. The diesels at Le Mans is part of that (note in the linked article about the particle filters on the Peugeot). The Indy Racing League now uses nothing but Ethanol, and Rahal/Letterman will run a Porsche RS Spyder that runs on street legal ethanol (I couldn't find an article specifically about that, though I did find one about the greening of Porsche). Granted ethanol is not my favorite solution, largely because of the US' insistence on using corn and the way we farm corn.

In 1998, small American auto manufacturer Panoz even tried to enter a hybrid Le Mans racer, years before the astounding success of the Toyota Prius.

As a racing fan and someone concerned about the environment at the same time, this kind of thing is encouraging. If racing can take the lead in changing things for the better then there might still be room for finishes like this (keep in mind that this last lap comes after twelve hours of racing. The fireworks going off gives a neat video game feel to the finish):

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I Want One (part one million)

Now that that is out of my system (because of course piece of shit vandals read blogs...sigh)

There is an interesting 'unofficial' history of the laugh track at TV Party. It's a bit kinder to the laugh track than I would be, as I see it as one of the great abominations of the sitcom and am stunned when new sitcoms employ them.

I had previously believed that it was Desi Arnaz' introduction of the three camera studio shooting that tacitly gave birth to the laugh track, and while I'm not entirely wrong, it is a bit more complex than that. (I'm a little bit of research away from doing a Desi Arnaz appreciation post).

But the best part, and why I bring it up, is this:

All of these tracks were then installed into a device known as, appropriately enough, a laugh machine.

This 28-inch-high apparatus resembles an organ, having 10 horizontal and four vertical keys and a foot pedal. The engineer "orchestrates" the laugh track by using the keyboard to select the type, sex, and age of the laugh, while playing the foot pedal to determine each reaction's length.

I must have one of these.

Open Letter to the Prick(s) Smashing the Windows on My Bus

What the fuck?

Seriously, what the fuck is your problem you little piece of shit?

I want to know what the fuck is going through your feeble fucking mind that you're getting entertainment out of breaking other peoples shit.

Do you think I have nothing better to spend my money on than to replace windows on a car that I intended on using all next month while I sorted things out on The Lego?

Even as a pacifist, you better fucking pray I never catch your fucking ass. Even I don't want to know what the result of the blind fucking rage will be, you worthless fucking piece of repugnant shit.

Three fucking nights, six windows including the two windshields. Hope, hope the police catch you, because I am likely to beat you within in an inch of your worthless pathetic little life.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Olive Branch

I am left handed.

This, I believe, is the reason I have always been subjected to collaborative art forms. The handy, the crafty, their skills where harbored and encouraged by abundant equipment tailored to their use and the pointy scissors. If there where more than two 'lefties' in the class we had to wait in line for the privilege of using the left-handed blunt 'safety scissors.' Never mind the tacit implication that I was a dangerous 'other' that might hurt myself or others while cutting out my construction paper turkey, I was normalized to expression that took other people to pull off.

It might be a stretch to use scissors as an explanation as to why I don't even attempt to write straight prose, but I still say it is part of an ingrained mind set.

So even in my earliest writing desire, comic books, I needed someone else to see anything I created to completion. Even in music I chose to play a horn, which unless I want to be the colorful backdrop to someone's romantic city evening, I need the rest of the band to do anything. I never had that roll-up-your-sleeves one man band ability of the rockers, I need a group of other people with me to play.

Theater and film have been even worse. The man power to film even the simplest of things would make a pretty decent sized band, and theater is no better. In studying both I've always been jealous of the techies who have studied with me. They learned the lighting, they wired the sound, they built the set. They gathered the cameras and the steady cams and built the equipment they couldn't get otherwise and seemed to have an unlimited ability to churn out work after soulless work.

And that's the thing. So often it simply wasn't that inspiring to watch. I would feel bad criticizing it, after all, they managed to get their stuff up while my stuff remains a simply talked about 'masterpiece,' but still, some of that stuff is really really bad.

And I held, in my head, that if the artists could just get their act together we could turn out something really cool.

Enter my current gig. For professionalisms' sake I won't say what show I'm working on, but it's a theater production where I am in the tech role that I actually do know how to do thanks to the demands of small theaters. This particular show is being put on by artists, the director is a playwright (not the playwright for this), the designers are also writers or other aspects of theater artists that are filling the roles. I have come in at the end to operate the show and now I see the error of my ways.

The truth of the matter is that techs are able to do so much work because, as Sous Rature put it, the techs are the ones who put on the show. They can do it without us, but it is much harder for us to do it without them. And it shows.

One without the other is a show that either looks good but isn't, or a show that could be good but looks horrible.

There needs to be a truce. I can see how the techs get frustrated, they want to get to it. They know what has to be done, they have the toys or creative solution and they want to get to building it so they can get to the next problem to solve. Waiting for a 'creative type' to get his or her act together and put something together to make can be numbing.

Alternatively, for the creative types dealing with the techs can be difficult. It's 'our baby' and they need to be able to just look in our heads and translate that thing that we don't even have the vocabulary to describe. We end up thinking, "Why can't they do what I want them to?"

The reality is that what they do is creative, and we need to allow them to add their creativity to what we do. And, this si important, recognize a limitations when they tell us there is one. These guys love coming up with solutions, if they can't do something we have to recognize that it's breaking their hearts a little.

And the techs have to realize that we're good at what we do, and what we do, while it might seem simple, sometimes takes time and if given time will be a better project to work on.

So, as a non-tech creative type, I'll make this pledge. I promise that I will do my best to get my projects together in a timely manner. This is for me as much as anything. I will recognize that tech is a creative process and they know what they are doing and are necessary to bring my stuff to life. I will no longer be jealous of their ability to put on shows at will.

After all, it's what they do.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

How "300" Helped Me Understand Musicals

That's right. The film version of Frank Miller's 300 led me to an understanding about musicals.

I'll say that even with my fresh understanding of them, I'm still not so much a fan. But the obstacle, the same thing that many people have with musicals now makes sense to me. And it came thanks to one of the least musical movies ever.

Or is it?

300 is a fantastic telling of a real story, to a degree. And it's in that degree that I found my understanding.

Miller or director Zack Snyder is not leading us to believe that the Persians had giant men chained up as a secret weapon, or that King Xerxes was 9' tall and sounded like the bad guys from Stargate. For comics it has been common for quite some time. Comic books, because of the medium, has always had a degree of impressionism to it. (Footnote on this to follow)

But one of the age old arguments for film was whether or not it represented 'reality,' or what was the real. "Seeing is believing" has guided the audiences expectation in film, or that has been the conventional wisdom of film theory, at least one side of it. The other, springing from the Melies films vs. Lumiere and Edison films that were more or less documentary.

The realism restriction, that expectation of audience, has pretty much dominated. But I think thats selling audience short by making excuses for when the audience doesn't seem to follow that need. All the way back to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari there have been impressionistic films. Audiences are more than willing to accept fantastic setting, from the films of Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet. These are theatrical pieces, magical reality.

Theater has never really had a problem with this and since the inception of the musical has churned them out non-stop. But for film consetions like "it's a dream" in films like Chicago or The Wizard of Oz, or the "Backstage musical" (there's not even a Wiki page on that...weird), essentially a music set 'backstage' at a musical hall so people singing was proper. Never mind that Busby Berkeley's numbers couldn't take place on any stage. Or that musicals became popular as soon as films got sound. But the wisdom was that the audience still expected the film to be 'real.'

It doesn't even hold true if you look at the body of films made that a film has to be a story of what happened in the literal sense, that notion of 'reality.'

So if I can accept a 9' King Xerxes why can't I accept people breaking into song? My problem was trying to establish the 'reality' of setting. Trying to understand a 'world where people suddenly break into song.' That's not it, anymore than the family is supposed to be feasible in The Royal Tenenbaums. With all the fantastic things that we will allow in a film, song seems mild considering the other extravagances of film. The trick is not trying to relate it to what 'really' is happening. Nothing, it's a story. Even when it 'really happened' it's not a matter of what really happened.

Footnote On Comic Adaptations

300 had another discovery for me in it. That was with its obvious comparisons with the other comic book movie out at the time, Ghost Rider. One, as already discussed, abandoned the notion of reality almost all together, shot entirely on a set with the style and look of the film stamped on every frame. Ghost Rider instead took the chopper riding flaming skeleton demon and shoe horned him into 'our world.' It's actually a bit surprising that this mistake is still happening. The film that jump started this rather long run of comic book films, Tim Burton's Batman, created an art deco out of time Gotham, an impressionistic world in which a man in a bat costume could emerge and not be out of place. The mistake that happens in Ghost Rider type adaptations is trying to bend as few rules of realism as possible. However, they should be looking at once you've crossed a certain threshold all bets are off.

There are degrees. Spiderman has as part of his identity New York as his backdrop, and to that he is anchored to a degree of the 'real.' But really, they should be looking with the barest amount of real they need. After all, audiences seem to follow Wizard of Oz just fine. And I think more of the audience than to excuse it as, "It's just a dream."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Motivation Through Public Shaming

To break from the essays we finally started writing, to talk about the other kind of writing we haven't done enough of by a long shot.

That being script writing, me and Sous Rature's initial collaboration. (Well, actually, our first collaboration was a fake news magazine of a sci fi universe for a rather unique club, but anyway...). We haven't managed a new work in quite some time in spite of having come up with what I think are some pretty good ideas.

Enter Script Frenzy. It's like that National Write a Book Month, but for playwrights and screenwriters. And we've entered.

The possibility of public shame has been one of our chief motivating factors so I thought I'd announce our attempt here.

So you know if at the end of the month if we for some reason don't mention this again, we failed.

We haven't selected the story yet, and seeing as the month started today that's not a good sign. But in all reality the bulk of the writing will be done in the last week of June anyway no matter what our intentions are.

Hopefully this will jump start us again. I'm beginning to really hate Reality Shows.